Squaresville...the unanticipated essay about the grammy awards

When I was a kid, my grandparents liked to watch the Lawrence Welk show on Saturday nights. My parents weren't fans, but they would tune in during the week to check out Perry Como and Andy Williams to hear them croon their middle of the road pop music. And of course on any Sunday night you'd find our entire family sitting in front of the Dumont for the Ed Sullivan Show...who could showcase Elvis, Beatles or the Stones sandwiched between a puppet and an opera singer, or a juggler and Allen and Rossi. There would be something for everybody jammed into those sixty minutes which is why they called the format a variety show. 


Variety shows died out a long time ago when the suits figured out that the name of the game is demographics, and that there's no need to provide entertainment for everybody...just those people who spend the most money on the least amount of things that can be created, marketed, targeted and sold off to achieve the highest profit. I doubt that they were the first, but all you need to do is recall The Monkees and you get the idea.


"Hey Max...get me four kids with long hair."


When I was about twelve years old, I'd never watch the same things my parents did on television. Not only was it culturally against the grain to be caught residing in Squaresville, but my generation rejected the whole show business thing in favor of something more real...organic you might say. Well, sort of. The reality is we were being ripped off without realizing it. After the Beatles broke, the record labels came up with hundreds of "Hey Max...get me four kids with long hair" bands to sell to us, and Broadway co-opted an entire generation with Hair which was not unlike today's Green Day musical that you can see six nights a week for a couple hundred of bucks a ticket. 


Somewhere in my mid to late teens I began to develop my own musical taste, or at least was able to have an internal aural definition as to what I liked and what I didn't. That each year when the Grammy awards were televised I would watch to see if any of my favorites would appear or take home an award was sort of a given, because even though they always disappointed me, there was usually something I could take away of value. It was at minimum a variety show, and sometimes it would actually go far out of it's way to showcase many types and styles of music. You could count on a classical segment, a salute to a broadway show or movie soundtrack, the obligatory jazz thing and maybe some sort of retrospective of an historical nature. And they might have a comedian hosting it, which could be good for a few laughs.


I don't know when, maybe ten or fifteen years ago, I realized that the Grammys not only didn't represent my type of music, they stopped even pretending that they were inclusive. They ratcheted down and targeted an extremely specific audience, one that spends their dough on a very narrow type of pop music. It's simply math...if the top 100 albums equal 88% of all music dollars' spent, and the top twenty account for about 75%...just go after the sure thing. Tailor the show to those folks who spend that 75% with artists they like, and padded with ads from sponsors they will support. It's not necessarily a crime, it's just the way it works. And so around that time, I stopped watching most of it. Although with Tivo I was able to record and speed through in forty minutes a three hour show. That worked.


My teenagers are music junkies and have zero interest in the Grammys. We all watch the Oscars and Emmys together, and for the past two years we've enjoyed the Golden Globes even more because everyone gets drunk and you just never know what might happen. So it's not the award show setting they can't get into, it's that the Grammys are the equivalent to what the Lawrence Welk Show and Perry Como and Andy Williams were for me...Squaresville.


So they opted out last night with one kid gaming while watching the Simpsons, and the older one having a Skype conference call with three friends to talk about new music they've discovered. My wife was busy doing what teachers usually do on their days off...she worked...grading 240 notebooks. And I sat downstairs in front of the television and chose to tune into the awards even though I knew from the internet who had won and who had lost already (I'm on the west coast), and I also knew that Pete Seeger who won an award would not be mentioned nor shown on the screen. We got Will Smith's kid instead. 


There was one performance I wanted to see, or actually three. Mumford and Sons, the Avetts' and Dylan. Shortly before, when Neil Young was nominated in some ridiculous category and the camera showed him with Pegi smiling and waving in the front, I almost gagged on my almonds. Oh Neil...why were you there? But that question got lost as soon as Dylan stood in front of the youngsters (who in my humble opinion each did well on their own) and I watched in pain and anguish as the mighty has fallen. If it's better to burn out then fade away, Dylan has accomplished that. 


I was told by a friend in Boston that Mick Jagger's set was worth hanging in for. No, I couldn't take anymore. I turned off the TV, didn't even bother to hit record. Figured that this morning I'd You Tube it...and I did and of course got a legal eagle notification that the video was removed at the request of the content owners. The network I guess, maybe the RIAA who own and run the awards. Not to fear...this is the internet and if you can watch a revolution you can find Mick. And I did. I watched it.


Squaresville...I'm finally over it.




Views: 237

Tags: Grammy Awards

Comment by Cody Breuler on February 14, 2011 at 11:43am
There was a lot of showmanship, some OK singing, but for all the talk of love for music and respect for musicians...it looked like a Broadway show...like the music couldn't speak for itself. I actually like when they give awards and people speak..all the half cocked duets, mash ups, and superstar " events"  don't do it for me. And what's with all the strobe lights..it was like a rave no matter who played.
Comment by Jack on February 14, 2011 at 12:46pm

It doesn't sound like there was much wunnerful, wunnerful music last night.



Comment by Hal Bogerd on February 14, 2011 at 12:49pm

You got that right Easy Ed. I tuned in just in time to watch some Dylan impersonator deconstruct "Maggie's Farm" into a mumbled shout-along and turned off the TV.






Comment by Jerry Withrow on February 14, 2011 at 5:12pm

I sincerely hope that this won't degenerate into one of those depressing yet predictable  post-Grammy article and comments slogs.

It's been a tough winter , perhaps for few  moreso than  the music industry and those  attatched to it financially or like me,  spiritually.  But Jeez these woebegone rants about the Grammys that make an evening of QVC seem preferable and that inevitably hustle stale cheap shots at "copouts" who DO appear like Dylan and Jagger  (totally unwarrented this time in both instances IMO) - all this while huddled comfortably defensive in our niche, safely ignoring recognition for deserving artists like Mavis Staples (glad Grant caught that a day later), Patty Griffin, Bela Fleck, Esperanza Spalding, Ali Farkha Toure & Toumani Diabate ,Arcade Fire, Buddy Guy, Carolina Chocoate Drops, The Roots, Miranda Lambert and yeah that teamup of Mick & Raphael Saadiq .... and sure a lot of these missed the telecast, but WE weren't watching anyway or  we left as soon as our preconceived triggers had been tripped.  No Depression's a tough stance to aspire to, even in much better times than these.  It can however suggest the possibility of something better.

Comment by Easy Ed on February 14, 2011 at 8:06pm

I was thinking of something better this evening, long after I posted the above. It would seem that one idea would be to stage two Grammy shows, or maybe even several. There could be the typical show like you saw last night, and then there could be some others that focused on groups of music or categories that just don't hit that commercial potential that advertisers look for in the main production. So maybe CMT could host a country version, BET a blues and/or rhythm and blues fest, NGEO does world music and QVC could sell the office furniture from record labels that are going out of business. (Sorry Jerry...I have to live up to that woebegone title you laid on me). Nevertheless...I really do think this could hold possibilities for both the musicians, record biz types, consumers and yes...even advertisers who can't afford the usual $250K per minute. 


I specifically titled this post an essay and avoided the word rant, because I wasn't trying to stir up the troops with the usual type of annual post-award garbage. The show just doesn't speak to me and probably many others here, although the vast majority of viewers probably loved it. I get it. Regarding my comments about Young, Dylan and Jagger...I can't help feeling that they let me down. I admit that may be more of my problem than their shortcomings, but I'm not here to sugarcoat my emotions in order not to offend. For me, it was what it was. 


But back to the question that Jerry asks...can it be better? Hell yes...the Grammy's should be an annual celebration of music and use this opportunity to reach a wider audience and expose more artists than just the top ten or twenty it focuses on. It would make for a healthier business model as well as creating a cultural vehicle for the arts so some twelve year old might actually aspire to play like Bela Fleck or Esperanza Spalding and not think the only musical option is being Jay-Z's clone. 

Comment by Jerry Withrow on February 14, 2011 at 9:28pm
Thanks  Ed. What bothers me is the narrow focus of so much of the criticism I read in so many forums today - not even primarily in this one. I'd just like to see a discussion where genres don't define enjoyment and yesterday's show can't be dismissed out of hand or heck even all giggly swallowed like a sugar cookie. I thought there were things to build on last night and I thank you for addressing that. We take our engagement with  the music  for granted sometimes but I think it's crucial to make that committment as far reaching yet exacting as possible - for both artists and audience. You'd also damned well better have fun. And we'll agree to disagree on some details.
Comment by Lwood on February 15, 2011 at 5:19am
I think the Grammy's are all about TV, as opposed to the Oscars, etc....just my opinion, and they never were about what music I liked either, 45 years ago nor today.
Comment by Adam Sheets on February 15, 2011 at 5:37am
When Kris Kristofferson came out with Barbra Streisand to announce album of the year, my only thought was "Please God, don't let Kris say Lady Antebellum." It seems that my prayers were answered, even though Arcade Fire doesn't belong anywhere in the top 50 of 2010 in my opinion.
Comment by Lucky Mud on February 15, 2011 at 7:17am
Ed. This is the clearest post I've ever read about these kinds of shows. I found nothing depressing or predictable about it, just a poignant message about the state of things. And how much things have changed.

     We were invited to play at the North American Folk Alliance a couple of years ago in Memphis, in what was called a private showcase. Since we're members (I think we still are, maybe) we took a week off, drove up from Florida with our guitars and enough Champagne and Pecan Sandies to live on, got a room across from the Hyatt Regency and walked across the street to be a part of it.

     Folk singers getting out of limos...lithe bodies, dressed to the nines, long hair flowing. Man, it was something. It didn't take us long to realize we weren't supposed to be there. Nobody told us that, besides being members, we needed about a thousand bucks between us to be a ‘part' of the show. That private showcases were frowned upon, and things were being done to make them ‘illegal.'

     First, we NEVER would've gone had we known all this ahead of time. The kind folks who invited us to the showcase must've thought we'd look into it, figure it out, but not us. We would never have broken rules like that, but we didn't know, we'd spent a lot (for us) getting there, getting a room, taking time off work, to turn and go home. So we played the showcases, met some great musicians who later came down to Florida to be guests on our live concert series, and tried not to get busted and embarrass ourselves or the folks who invited us.

     I see the folk music scene in a totally different light now. We learned a lesson. I'm too old, been doing this too long, to change, but I have different expectations. These award shows just point out the changes.

     Thanks again for telling it simply.
Comment by Michael Helwig on February 15, 2011 at 8:40am
during their recording careers, combined, Elvis and the Beatles won 7 Grammys...SEVEN!...and Elvis' were all for gospel albums...I think there needs be no more scathing indictment of the awards' total irrelevance to great music...sure, great music sometimes wins...but it always seems like an accident


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.